HL Deb 13 November 1984 vol 457 cc213-5

2.57 p.m.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they will make a statement, following the Foreign Secretary's recent visit to Israel, on the prospects for an European initiative, in conjunction with the United Nations, to prepare the way for international negotiations to seek a solution to the dangerous deadlock between Israel and the Arab countries about the future of the Palestinian people.

Lord Trefgarne

Following the visit of my right honourable and learned friend the Secretary of State for Foreign and Commonwealth Affairs to Israel, the Government remain convinced that a negotiated settlement of the Arab/Israel dispute must be based on the two principles of secure existence for Israel and self-determination for the Palestinians. This view is shared with our European Community partners. We stand ready to help in the search for such a settlement, but the primary responsibility to initiate progress must lie with the parties directly concerned.

Lord Chelwood

My Lords, I am very grateful for that reply, which I confess I find rather puzzling and even a little depressing. What are the reasons why the Government take the view that it is likely that the United States will take an initiative in the foreseeable future to try to narrow the gap between Israel and her Arab neighbours, bearing in mind that it would indeed have to be based on the two principles which my noble friend has enunciated for the umpteenth time; that is, the security of Israel and the self-determination of the Palestinian people? Why is it that Her Majesty's Government and our Community partners continue to take such an optimistic view of the possibility of an American initiative? Is this not rather a strange optimism and ought not the Community to be willing to take an initiative itself?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I think it is a mistake to think that the United Kingdom, or even the European Community, has a magic wand which we can wave over this problem to produce a solution. The first thing we need to achieve is a concerted view among the parties themselves, or at least one side of the parties themselves, and that has yet to be attained.

Lord Cledwyn of Penrhos

My Lords, we welcome the visit of the Foreign Secretary to the Middle East and note that he has offered to consider playing a part in an expanded United Nations force in South Lebanon, but that—and I quote the right honourable gentleman's words— participation on the ground is not the only way of giving support. Will the noble Lord say what sort of support the Foreign Secretary and the Government have in mind, if not the contribution of forces? Furthermore we regret—as he does, I feel sure—the postponement of the United Nations inspired military talks between the Lebanon and Israel. What is to happen next and can the Minister tell the House why these talks broke down?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am not entirely clear why the talks to which the noble Lord referred have broken down, but I understand that the Secretary-General of the UN is trying actively to get them going again. As for the United Kingdom's contribution to UNIFIL, as the noble Lord will be aware, we have long favoured an expansion of that force to help Israeli withdrawal. Indeed, it was our idea as far back as September 1983. We are already a major financial contributor and provide some logistical assistance. My right honourable and learned friend actually said, I think, that we would consider additional support. The area of logistics is one where we are particulary well-equipped to help.

Lord Shinwell

My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that a European initiative is desirable not only because it might effect consensus instead of the continued confrontation but for military, or peace, reasons? Why allow the intervention of the United Nations, which will never cease condemnation of the state of Israel, which has never accepted the proposition that Israel should be furnished with essential security and which has displayed bias and prejudice from the very beginning on the subject of the Middle East?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I am sorry if the noble Lord takes that view. We favour the position of the Security Council in this matter rather than some of the declarations of the General Assembly, with which we have less sympathy.

Lord Bottomley

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, if there are to be successful peace initiatives in the Middle East, it is necessary for the Palestinians to recognise the state of Israel?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, that would certainly be an important step forward.

The Earl of Onslow

My Lords, is it not important that Europe plays a much greater part in this area, because, after all, it is Europe's dew pond—it is her back garden—between Israel and the Middle East? The American President received 31 per cent. of the Jewish vote at the last election, as opposed to the 72 per cent., or whatever it was, for Mr. Mondale. Therefore Europe is in a position to pressurise an American President who is now less beholden to the Zionist vote than ever before; and perhaps there is hope for some sort of progress under those circumstances for both Palestinian rights and peace in the Middle East.

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, I agree that the United States is indispensable to the peace process in the Middle East. It has close links with both sides. We are glad that President Reagan reaffirmed at the United Nations General Assemby his proposals of 1st September 1982, which we believe are a realistic starting point for negotiations.

Viscount Buckmaster

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Secretary of State's speech in Israel in which he urged the Israeli Government to call a halt to the construction of new settlements on the West Bank has been widely welcomed in the Arab world in the context of an eventual settlement of the Arab-Israel dispute?

Lord Trefgarne

My Lords, my right honourable friend certainly did, I think, speak in the way that the noble Lord says. We believe that the Israeli settlements are illegal and an obstacle to peace. A freeze, which has sometimes been suggested, would certainly increase confidence as regards Israeli intentions.

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